Automakers can't catch a break. January 2009 sales fell dramatically compared to those in January 2008. It is the 15th straight month of falling sales for the industry. The industry hasn't sold so few cars since June 1982.
For the Big Three American automobile makers:
Fleet sales are down 80% at GM. "Fleet sales declined 80% at Chrysler and 65% at Ford."
Chrysler is evaluating three bids for its 110 employee, signature Dodge Viper business.
Sales were collapsing in the industry, almost across the board, without only a few exceptions (most notably the Korean automakers):
Ford has been trying to sell Volvo, which it owns, but coming in a solid last place in January 2009 year on year sales declines won't help that effort. Ford also has an interest in Mazda.
GM and Chrysler has received federal bailouts and Fiat has also purchased a stake in Chrysler, but no amount of adjustment on the financing side of the balance sheet can save these companies from catastrophic drops in sales in the long run.
There is anecdotal evidence that the inability of customers to get loans is a major factor in the decline in car sales.
The Big Three are also continuing to lose market share compared to their main foreign competitors. It is also notable that Hyundai, the healthiest automaker, ran the most Superbowl ads this year, and that Audi, another of the more successful brand in January, was also a Superbowl advertiser.
For the first time ever, there were more cars sold in China than in the United States.
Observers disagee over whether the industry has hit bottom or will fall further. But, there is very little hard evidence out there to counter the "Detroit is doomed" meme.
UPDATE (from 2/5/09 RMN Business 11 hardcopy):
In April 1985 the Big Three had 80% market share, as of January 2009 it is 43%.
From January 2008 to January 2009, market share changed as follows:
Chrysler 13.2$ to 9.5%
Ford 14.9% to 14.2%
GM 24% to 19.5%
Big Three total 52.1% to 43.2%